Do you mine your data for use in social media? If not, you’re missing out on being cost-effective and engaging – whether targeting consumers, voters, members or anyone in between. Here are four important social media lessons from Teddy Goff, who was digital director of Obama for America.

Experimenting with social media is critical.Try and try again – and then try some more. Use multiple messages, different landing pages, switch out your word choices, and add lots of images if possible. Goff’s team, for example, found that nouns in messages worked better than verbs (and probably counter to what most of us would do). Even word choices made a huge difference in fundraising. Goff: “The most effective was raising money off the word – should.”

Your social media team doesn’t have to be large in numbers (or steeped in social). People of all backgrounds were on the 250-person digital team. Guess how many managed the Twitter feed? Four. That’s right. Four. Four people tweeted to the world. That meant consistency in tone, voice and keying in the analytics to push out the right kinds of messages at the right time – including undecided voters who can swing any election. Goff: “There are three simple words in social – Don’t be lame.”

Your gut can be your most important guide. In the bullpen of social media planning and in a group obsessed (rightly so) with analytics, many timely decisions by the digital team were made in the wee hours, without a lot of screening, and after a few beers. And like most good storytelling, an emotional link often gets the best reaction – like the most retweeted tweet of 2012. Goff: “The most minute things make a big difference.”

Being first and trying something new has its rewards. Remember that in the first election of 2008, Facebook was half the size it is today. Twitter wasn’t yet a strategic asset and the iPhone had just come out in the summer of 2007. The relationship between people and campaigns was dramatically changing. A number of tactics, like a website called the created by the Obama camp, had a constantly moving details button that never landed on a real plan. That was a more effective way to share a white paper by Obama than asking voters to read a white paper. Goff: “People did stick around to read Obama’s blog post because it was funny and shareable.”

If you’re a doubter of any of these social media methods, consider these facts. According to online credentials, Goff’s team collectively:

  • Raised more than $500 million
  • Registered more than a million voters online
  • Built Facebook and Twitter followings of more than 45 and 33 million people respectively
  • Generated more than 100 million video views
  • Ran the largest online advertising program in political history
  • Built groundbreaking tools for social media online fundraising and campaigning
  • Organized more than 150,000 active volunteers and 300,000 offline events through Dashboard, a proprietary organizing platform

As a member of campaign leadership, he also played a critical role in developing and executing the broader campaign’s strategy for fundraising, organizing, and communications.

We believe that the strength of the Obama story on social was also about a strong narrative – tied to tone, imagery, simplicity and emotion. Or as we like to advise clients: Own your story. Live your story. Tell your story.

Now, what about the most famous post-victory Obama tweet last year that was totally unplanned?

The now famous “Four More Years” tweet was about the image – a smiling Obama seen hugging his wife Michelle (her back to the camera). Now, remember that the election is in November and Michelle was wearing a sleeveless dress and the couple was framed against a summer sky.

“We had not prepared for post-victory tweets. We were in such a rush. Any one tweet could have taken off. There was a previous photo that showed the First Lady’s face. I said it would be great if you could see his face.”

And that, as the tweets go, is how the photo was selected. Just the best hug of happy and the rest is Twitter history (for the moment).

As for the other memorable tweet “This seat’s taken” post the Clint Eastwood chair mocking tirade during the Republican National Convention, Goff said “there was no debate over whether it was the right thing to do.”

Result? Team Digital, again with a simple image of the back of the presidential chair, hijacked the GOP space and landed the most retweeted message.

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